Good news: if we get humans to Mars, there could be beer!
Students at Villanova University have discovered hops, a primary ingredient in beer, grows well in soil similar to that found on Mars. No, this wasn’t found by NASA scientists. It was found by students at a United States university.
The experiment, led by Astronomy and Astrophysics Professor Edward Guinan, has proved to be a great success.
“I don’t know if it’s a practical plant, but it’s doing fairly well,” Guinan told The New York Times.
The students, on the other hand, are more convinced of its practicality. Of course, they can make a classic student drink from it.
First step for Martian beer. Hops grows in red planet soil. https://t.co/hPwXhIbcJr
— Kenneth Chang (@kchangnyt) January 12, 2018
Guinan’s astrobiology class explored the possibility of extraterrestrial life with a group of 25 students. The students were encouraged to become ‘farmers’.
They experimented with different crops to see whether any could potentially survive in Martian soil. Their professor egged them on with the premise of hungry future travellers.
“I was trying to come with a project for the students to do, a catchy project that would be fairly easy,” Guinan told The New York Times.
“I kept telling them, ‘You’re on Mars, there’s a colony there, and it’s your job to feed them. They’re all depending on you.’”
The professor let the students choose in groups what plant they would attempt to grow. He claimed students fell into two categories: those who chose nutritious plants such as soy beans and kale, and others who chose herbs for exciting flavours such as mint and basil.
Just one group failed to fall into either category: the one who chose hops (after they were told no to marijuana).
“Because they’re students,” said Guinan. “Martian beer.”
For the experiment, Guinan bought 100 pounds of ‘Martian’ dirt online. While as of yet no actual soil has been retrieved from Mars, spacecrafts have analysed the planet’s soil in immense detail. Scientists are able to replicate the dirt on Earth mainly consisting of crushed basalt from an ancient volcano in the Mojave Desert.
What's the point of going to Mars if there isn't any beer there? https://t.co/IeGpAyKNzm
— NYT Science (@NYTScience) January 15, 2018
The students discovered the plants were much more successful when vermiculite, a mineral often mixed in with heavy and sticky Earth soils, was added to them.
In these conditions, almost all plants survived.
However, the chances of the astronauts taking excessive amounts of vermiculite with them to Mars are slim. So instead they tried cutting up bits of cardboard which also proved successful.
Finally, the students found the perfect solution: coffee grounds. When they mixed the coffee grounds in with the dirt the plants flourished. They managed to grow carrots, spinach and scallions in a mix of coffee and Martian soil.
“We think the coffee has a lot of potential,” student Elizabeth Johnson told The New York Times.
So perhaps after the beer, brave Mars-goers could grab a bite to eat, too.